Who is Responsible for Road Debris Damage?

road debris in the form of a fallen tree

Car accidents and damage caused by road debris are very common. A 2016 study by AAA found that road debris was a contributing factor in over 50,000 crashes a year. With numbers like that, many of us are bound to be involved in a debris-related accident at some point. But who is responsible for road debris damage to your car? Is it covered by insurance? And what counts as “road debris” in the first place? Keep reading to learn more. 

What is Road Debris?

Road debris can take many forms, from natural hazards to fallen cargo. It may be already in the road or fly off the back or roof of someone’s vehicle. Common examples of road debris include:

  • Fallen branches
  • Traffic cones or other road work equipment
  • Fallen road signs
  • Tires or debris from tire blowouts
  • Furniture or other household items
  • Tire chains
  • Loose gravel
  • Animals

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Road debris includes basically any physical object or objects impeding the safe flow of traffic on a road. 

Who is Liable for Road Debris?

With so many sources of debris, it can be complicated to determine who is responsible for road debris damage. In many cases, more than one party may be liable. The exact answer will depend on the circumstances of the crash and the type of debris.

Flying Cargo

When cargo is poorly secured or a vehicle is improperly loaded, debris can tumble out onto the road or even fly directly into your car. This can include large items, like mattresses or work equipment. Obviously, the driver who failed to secure his or her cargo is liable for the accident. However, in the case of commercial truck drivers or others operating a company vehicle, the employer may also be responsible for road debris damage. 

Road Work Debris

Traffic cones, handheld signs, tools, and other road work equipment that strays out of work zones are the responsibility of the construction company overseeing the project. The Federal Highway Administration of the US Department of Transportation has created a Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Contractors are expected to abide by these regulations, which includes regular inspection of work zones to ensure safety and compliance. 

Natural Hazards

Fallen tree limbs are especially common during the winter months when ice and snow weigh them down. The liable party for natural hazards such as this depends on the road and location. In general, the state is responsible for addressing state road issues, the county maintains county roads, etc. The same is true for fallen or damaged signage and the bodies of animals that have been struck.  


Homeowners with a private roadway are also responsible for keeping it free of hazardous conditions, including debris. Those who fail to do so may face premises liability should an accident occur. 

Does Insurance Cover Road Debris Damage?

In some cases, you may not be able to pursue compensation from a responsible party. This is especially true if it was a private vehicle whose driver was unaware they had dropped something and continued driving away. It can also be difficult to prove ownership of certain debris that is already in the road (unless it is clearly marked with a company name or other identification). 

In these situations, you can file an auto insurance claim. You will likely need comprehensive coverage for damage caused by flying debris. Otherwise, if you struck or rolled over the debris, it may be covered under general collision insurance. 

If you were injured in the collision, you may still have the option to pursue legal action. Again, the state and county have a duty to maintain their respective roadways. This includes clearing hazards left by other drivers. If the hazard was reported to the appropriate government entity and they failed to address it in a timely manner, they may be held accountable for your injuries and/or damage to your car. 

Legal Help for Road Debris Damage in Colorado

Determining who is responsible for road debris damage can be complicated. In Colorado, the skilled attorneys at the Roth Group can assist you with both filing your claim and building a case against the liable party. If you or someone you know was in an accident caused by debris in the road, please call our office or go online today to schedule a free consultation.